The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall Paperback – Sep 11 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
With this timely book, political risk consultant Bremmer aims to "describe the political and economic forces that revitalize some states and push others toward collapse." His simple premise is that if one were to graph a nation's stability as a function of its openness, the result would be a "J curve," suggesting that as nations become more open, they become less stable until they eventually surpass their initial levels of stability. In other words, a closed society like Cuba is relatively stable; a more open society like Saudi Arabia is less so; and an extremely open society like the United States is extremely stable. Bremmer expertly distills decades—sometimes centuries—of history as he analyzes 10 countries at different positions on the J curve. North Korea is perhaps the most disturbing example of the left side of the curve, where a closed authoritarian regime produces effective stability; on the right of the curve sit stable countries like Turkey, Israel and India. This leads Bremmer to conclude that political isolation and sanctions often work against their intended resultsand that globalization is the key to opening closed authoritarian states. Bremmer persuasively illustrates his core thesis without eliding the complexities of global or national politics. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
On a graph on which the vertical axis measures a nation's stability and the horizontal axis measures its relative openness to external political and economic forces, the "J curve" plots the trajectory nations must take as they move from authoritarian control toward liberal democracy (or vice versa). Essentially, the curve is a graphical representation of the commonsense proposition that governments moving toward or away from authoritarianism must necessarily survive a "slide toward instability" as their institutions of governance are broken down and then reformed in new configurations. In Bremmer's hands, however, the J curve is a powerful heuristic that is capable of clarifying the persistent dilemma of how to nudge nations toward openness while sparing their citizens--and the world--the chaos that accompanies such transitions. In part, the J curve is effective because it explains why authoritarian states (like North Korea, on the curve's far left) are often more stable than relatively young liberal democracies (like South Africa and Russia); it may also show the fallacy of trying to undermine authoritarian states though isolation. A quick, fascinating read. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's not only for policymakers but also for curious people who care about the present world that face so many questions about Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Middle East crisis, the Islamic terrorism, the U.S. foreign policy and a few others conflicts.
It's a new way that allows us to reconsider the flow of information throughout the newspapers, the news, etc; and to be vigilant.
The author - Ian Bremmer, one of the most brilliant global political risk experts - offers up an interesting tour of the historical, economic, social and political situation of different countries.
Using a simple J curve design to demonstrate a relevant tool for understanding the place these different countries take in the world; and how those affect the "stability" and "openness" of each country.
You can remark that the relationship between openness and stability is not something constant.
States can travel both forward (right) and backwards (left) along this J curve; thereby stability and openness are never secure.
But the good news is that you also can travel in either country along the J curve.
This argument well informed us about all these complexities.
After all, is there any place in the world which is really stable?
It's worth reading this book; it'll really change your view on how the world works.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The J-Curve is an innovative approach to mapping these complex dynamics to the behavior of governments around the world. Much of what has been written to date has focused solely on the economic and social impacts of globalization. This book synthesizes those impacts and explains how they can undermine or strengthen a nation depending on where it is on the J-Curve. Understanding the political decision-making and the forces within their societies that are motivating these governments is the crucial missing piece of the puzzle laid out in the J-Curve.
His insightful analysis distills the history and the current political, social and economic forces in the countries most relevant to the world economy and global stability - North Korea, Iran, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, China and more. Ian not only explains where they are but provides a framework to interpret current events and understand in which direction they are headed on the J-Curve.
I find myself interpreting news in a new way after reading this book. Three environmental disasters in China this week and the government response is to tighten controls on journalism, a clear move up the left side. Opium production at record highs in Afghanistan - we are still aren't through the bottom of the curve. While he does provide some foreign policy prescriptions, you are ultimately left with an understanding of the limits of foreign policy in our increasingly complex world and the dangers in not providing enough of the right assistance to the nations most at risk.
The J Curve is the work of a once precocious Sovietologist whose political education came inside a disintegrating Soviet Union-turned-dazzlingly successful president of a political risk consulting firm whose now experience extends far beyond former Soviet borders. Ian Bremmer's prose is lively, sharp and eminently accessible--free of both academic and policy jargon. His voice is a human one, and strikes a rare balance: devoid of sentimentality, but marked by an authentic concern about the human condition.
Emmott: "I found this a useful representation of what happens as institutions and regimes change and, certainly, a salutary warning against the view that democracy will grow as naturally as flowers in the spring. The book's main interest for me, however, lay not so much in the chart that gives it its title but in the fine and revealing case studies that Bremmer lays out to establish how complicated the political form of states really is. He outlines the situations in North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and China adeptly and looks also at countries, such as South Africa, that have made a successful transition to democracy; at others, such as India, where democracy has survived seemingly against the odds; and at Russia, where democracy has lately been foundering. The conclusion? That there is no clear rule that can guide us in judging which countries will move up the J curve and which will not. It all depends. Societies are fragile and complex organisms."
Zakaria: "he biggest real-world test of Bremmer's thesis is taking place right now in Asia. If he's right, India is a better long- and even medium-term bet than China. Is he correct? I look at China, which is doing so much economic and even social reform. Its strange free-market dictatorship is building world-class infrastructure--new schools, colleges, and universities; special economic zones; nuclear power plants--and is opening the economy and society to international trade. India, meanwhile, moves its reform process forward at a snail's pace, remaining in many ways well behind China, largely because it is a democracy and the government is busy subsidizing interest groups and voters. They're both doing fine, but China's economy is now three times the size of India's and grows about 2 percentage points faster. Will that change? I puzzle about this and am genuinely curious as to your response."
Political scientists may come up with elegant and even persuasive models such as this J-Curve. But in the long run, it's historians and their research that give the last words.
The contrasting studies of South Africa and Yugoslavia, in particular, are fascinating in light of the current efforts to build amity among hostile factions in Iraq. This is history for those who are truly committed to not repeating it.
Maintaining stability in a closed society requires limiting access to outside ideas (eg. purge "liberals" and intellectuals, ban/limit satellite dishes, Internet access, foreign trade, foreign films, outside books and magazines, cell phones, etc.), internal police (eg. KGB in the old U.S.S.R., Hussein's spies). Stability exists in open societies because their citizens know that political and social problems will be resolved by legitimate institutions. The "bad news" is that authoritarian elites cannot be quickly replaced by widely accepted institutions - it takes time for those new institutions to demonstrate credibility and gain strength over individuals that seek to make themselves dominant; it is easier to reestablish order by declaring martial law than increasing freedom.
Bremmer then uses these concepts to propose alternative directions for U.S. foreign policy. Instead of pushing regime change in North Korea via imposing punitive sanctions and cutting off opportunity to interact with outsiders (actually helps Kim by providing someone to blame for his problems and making isolation easier), we should encourage the Chinese and South Korea to create openings into North Korea. Further, we should also allow North Korea to keep its nuclear weapons while China and South Korea enforce inspections of N.K.'s exports to prevent nuclear smuggling.
A similar less confrontational approach should be/have been taken vs. Iran, Iraq, and Cuba. Additional reasons for doing so in Iran: Russia, China, and possibly some European nations will not allow sanctions against Iran, Iran was supportive of our efforts in Afghanistan, and the biggest threat against Iran's mullahs is its unemployed youth - not the U.S. (A 2002 survey found 94% of Iranians wanting either "change" or "major change.") As for Iraq - we simply should have let the U.N. inspectors continue, and forty years of isolating Cuba has accomplished nothing except to almost bring nuclear havoc during the Kennedy years.
Bremmer makes some good points - clearly we have not succeeded in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, or Cuba, and new thinking is appropriate. (I am, however, leery of simply relying on export inspections to contain N.K.) However, he could have done it in far less than 320 pages - eg. a magazine article.
Reading "The J Curve" also prompts one to think about how long American political stability can withstand the assaults continually perpetrated upon it. Examples include attempts to squash opposition (intellectuals, newspapers and other media), control voting (gerrymandering, large campaign contributions, impairing opponents access to voting), and misrepresenting actions being taken (tax cuts mostly benefiting the middle class; Saddam had WMD). Simultaneously globalization is creating social stresses through increased unemployment, lower wages and living standards, and decimating aspirations. How long before we descend into political instability?
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